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News of the week
– von Hegemann Nina
News of the week
Greece and Italy struggle with migrant influx
Waves of migrants are arriving on Europe's shores and borders this summer, most of them fleeing from war in Syria and Afghanistan. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says a record total of nearly 250,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year - 124,000 crossing its border in Greece and 98,000 in Italy. According to the news agency AP, more than 2,000 migrants have died in 2015 trying to reach Europe by sea or land. Governments are struggling to absorb the new arrivals.
One of the first European destinations that migrants and refugees reach are the Aegean Islands. On the Greek Island of Kos, a popular tourist destination, conditions are chaotic. The small island is trying to cope with 7,000 migrants who arrived on its beaches in July and have been camping alongside roads and beaches in wretched conditions. Hundreds more people are arriving every day. Kos is struggling to provide humanitarian assistance to them. Tensions are high between the authorities and the arrivals. In Spain, too, tensions are increasing. This week, groups of migrants clashed with police.
The European Commission has called the situation "beyond urgent" and calls for a "collective European response" to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people trying to reach European shores.
Now, the Hungarian government has taken a controversial decision: it is building a 175-kilometer long fence to keep out migrants crossing from Serbia. Troops are laying down razor wire near the border where over 110,000 migrants have crossed this year.
Sources: BBC, AP
Amnesty International backs decriminalisation of prostitution
In a contentious move, human rights organisation Amnesty International adopted a resolution to develop a pro-decriminalisation policy towards prostitution. At their biannual International Council Meeting in Dublin, Ireland, delegates voted for the resolution supporting the decriminalisation of consensual sex work. Amnesty International made clear that it will continue to fight human trafficking, which is often closely connected to prostitution.
The resolution met strong criticism, for instance from the civil society organisation Coalition against Trafficking in Women, who say that decriminalising prostitution does not make sex work safer for women, nor does it take into account that particularly poor and marginalised women are being trafficked. These women, critics claim, will be more vulnerable if prostitution is legal everywhere. A number of women’s organisations and also well-known Hollywood actresses are opposing Amnesty’s latest move.
Amnesty International, however, maintains that it aims to remove the stigma from prostitutes and insists that their job should eventually be legal and protected, with health coverage and pension benefits, just like any other profession.
Sources: The Independent, BBC
China devalues its currency
Facing an economic slowdown and a stock market slump, Chinese authorities decided to devalue the country’s currency this week. The central bank lowered the value of the renminbi on three consecutive days, thereby provoking its biggest fall since 1994.
The cuts have sparked worries of a “currency war” and concerns that China’s economy is in worse shape than was previously thought. According to The Guardian, the abrupt devaluation is a sign of the government’s worries that the country could fail to achieve its goal of seven percent economic growth this year.
The Chinese Central Bank claims that it is taking this step in order to establish a more market-oriented method of calculating the currency. The renminbi is tied to a reference rate set daily by the Central Bank. The currency is allowed to float no more than two percent above or below this rate. Under the new method, the previous day’s close, foreign-exchange demand and supply, as well as changes in major currency rates are considered to calculate the daily fixing.
Experts assume that China‘s intention is both to boost exports and to push for reserve-currency status at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF has welcomed the move as “it should allow market forces to have a greater role in determining the exchange rate”.
Sources: Bloomberg, NY Times, Guardian
Iraq’s parliament approves Abadi's reform plans
Iraqi parliamentarians have unanimously approved dramatic reforms proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He says his goal is to tackle corruption and cut waste. But some opposition politicians fear the move will instead help Iraq’s weak premier consolidate his own power.
Mr Abadi´s comprehensive reform proposals are the consequence of two weeks of angry street protests by citizens criticising state politics and corruption. The main aspects of the reform include the elimination of many senior government positions. Iraq’s government is dominated by the Shia majority, while many other posts go to its largest minority groups, the Sunnis and Kurds.
Meanwhile, Iraq is reeling from a series of devastating terrorist attacks committed by the jihadist terror group ISIS. There is a body of opinion that the current political system in Iraq is one of the reasons for the rise of ISIS.
Sources: Spiegel, tagessschau.de
Earth Overshoot Day
In less than eight months, humans have used up the planet’s natural resource supply for this year: Earth Overshoot Day fell on 13 August, marking the date when our annual demand exceeds what the Earth can regenerate. For the rest of the year, humanity will be living in natural overshoot: The ecological deficit will increase, local resource stocks will deplete and carbon dioxide will accumulate in the atmosphere.
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated each year by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) on the basis of humanity’s demands on the planet – in terms of carbon emissions, cropland, fish stocks and the use of forests for timber. It has moved from early October in 2000 to 19 August in 2014.
The GFN estimates that the world’s population currently consumes the equivalent yield of 1.6 planets. This will rise to two planets by 2030 based on current trends.
Source: Guardian, WWF, GFN
World Overshoot Day: http://www.overshootday.org/
Wave of violence in Kabul
In a series of devastating bomb attacks, over 50 people were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many lives were claimed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the heavily guarded Kabul airport, killing a number of persons waiting at the entrance to the airport building. In a message to Al Jazeera, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. According to experts, the terrorist organisation is trying to prove that it has stepped up its presence in the Afghan capital, as part of its summer offensive.
The attacks may also be a sign of a rift within the Taliban. After the recent death of its leader Mullah Omar, the group is facing a power struggle with various factions vying for succession, said Nicholas Haysom, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan. Experts fear that a possible peace process has become more unlikely.
Since neighbouring country Pakistan has been known to give shelter to the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has accused Pakistan of “sending messages of war” and not being serious in combatting terrorism.
Sources: BBC, Al Jazeera
These items were compiled by Sheila Mysorekar, Eva-Maria Verfürth and Sabine Balk on the basis of international media coverage.